Dear Chump Lady,
Almost a decade ago, I lived with a man with NPD. I was fortunate: his sparkles ran out before he could cheat or pressure me into marriage and children. I dumped him within the year. His abusiveness and mindfuckery did mess with me for a long time after, and he left me super-sensitive to red-flag behavior.
A friend of mine is in danger of being made a chump by a NPD, and it will be for the third time in the four years I’ve known her. I offered support after the first two breakups. Now, she’s in a relationship with so many red flags that my head is spinning.
Her current man is worse than the first two. He’s bad news–the kind of guy who expects his girlfriend to carry his weight, who drinks too much, who sparkles to others, who dates his students, and who is very likely to cheat, or may in fact already be doing so with his ex-wife (is she REALLY his ex?). He’s sabotaging my friend’s work in her grad program, and she can’t afford that. He’s demanding she put more money into their household expenses, even though he makes seven times more than she does, and he complains about how much housework she does. She’s buying him expensive electronics that she doesn’t even own for herself and cannot afford (though–as far as I know, not at his *direct* request). He makes her go out regularly with him and his ex-wife, even though they have no kids to tie them together.
I did my best. I gave her blunt feedback about the red-flags I saw. I pointed out problems, drew parallels to my story, which she knew, and even flat out told her that some of the things she reported were inappropriate and abusive. The only thing I didn’t do is tell her she should move out right away (I wanted to, but I can’t make that decision for her, and she’s a vulnerable foreign student).
I convinced my friend to read Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That? (the best book on abusive types that I know). She read it, and came back relieved to discover that her partner is “not at all abusive” but only “very controlling.”
Only very controlling.
I am so upset by her take-away from that book. I thought it would make her situation crystal-clear, even if I hadn’t managed to. I don’t know how much more I can do, because now she wants us all (her and the boyfriend, me and hubby) to be friends. I don’t want to be in the same room as this man, nor does hubby. I don’t want my friend to be hurt more, or pressured into marriage or pregnancy by her boyfriend or her colluding mother. I don’t want to watch this guy sparkle at me while my friend is wilting.
I don’t know what to do. I have no proof that he’s what I think he is–beyond what she has told me (I do, however, trust that he sucks). What’s worse, I don’t even know if I can provide the kind of support she needs. I carry my own wounds, and after seeing her in the midst of a third NPD relationship, I’m finding it hurts too much–because it reawakens my own pain–to support her the way she needs.
My friend is kind, good, loving, and generous. I don’t want this to be her fate, and I don’t want to step back from our friendship just because being her confidante through multiple bad relationships is too painful. She’s almost alone in this country–I don’t think she has another intimate female friend.
It makes me want to cry. I already watched long distance while my ex ruined another woman’s life. I don’t want to watch my friend’s life be ruined by a monster of the same stripe.
Is there anything else the friend of a chump can do? And how can I protect myself while being there for her? Do I subject myself and hubby to the NPD because not to do so would put distance between my friend and me? Or am I–by trying to swoop in and help–only hurting myself, because she’s going to spackle no matter what I say?
Almost-Chump to the Rescue
Dear Almost Chump to the Rescue,
You are a very compassionate friend. I, on the other hand, am a crabby, middle-aged blogger who would like to slap your chumpy pal into next week for subjecting herself — and you — to three NPDs in four years. That’s three NPDs too many. The point of having one of these freaks cross your path (if there is a point… I’ve discussed it with God and I’m often unclear on the evolutionary purpose of NPDs, unlike say… tree sloths…) — is to learn from disaster. Figure out their game, and hereafter AVOID such people.
Sounds like you did that, as you dumped your NPD and are now sound happily married. Your friend, however, is a slow learner. That’s on her.
For whatever reasons, your friend feels it is her job to be good kibbles. She accepts lopsidedness as normal. And she wants to “win” this doofus — buying him electronic gadgets and playing third wheel to the ex-wife. (Hello “pick me” dance.)
Your friend feels compelled to repeat abusive relationship after abusive relationship. I would say there’s some good news, in that she ended it with two NPDs, so you must hope she can end it with the third. But perhaps they ended it with her. In any case, she’s attracted to jerks. You have to put some of the responsibility for that on her — He makes her go out regularly with him and his ex-wife — no, she chooses to go out with him and his ex-wife. Unless he holds a gun to her head, she’s volunteering for this shit.
It’s totally maddening. You’ve tried giving her insight — that’s great that she read the Lundy book. (For sale, chumps, up there in the Amazon box to the right.) But as the saying goes — you can explain it to her, but you can’t understand it for her. She has to connect those dots on her own.
Pain is a good teacher. That’s how most of us learn eventually. Hand on stove = pain. Stepping on Lego = pain. Relationship with NPD = pain. To connect those dots and conclude “pain” you have to identify the danger. Stoves are hot and need to be handled with care. Legos do not belong on the floor. People who want you to pay seven times your share, and drink too much, are bad boyfriends.
My guess is that she fears the pain of being alone, over the pain of the boyfriend. She’s isolated. A foreign student in strange land. And as you point out, she doesn’t have any other friends than you. Why people aren’t signing up for the joy of nursing her through multiple break ups, I can’t imagine…
Anyway, my point is — she needs to face that fear and wrestle that bitch to the ground. Dump the loser, make other friends, learn to focus on her own success and quit throwing all her energy at this creep.
Oh hey, I just told you something you already know! You want me to tell you how you can make that happen for her.
You only control you. Sucks, doesn’t it? The only leverage you have in this situation is your relationship with her, and there you can apply sanctions. If you’re chumpy, or almost chumpy, this feels really outside your comfort zone. I get it. Wouldn’t it be better if you could just shake some sense into her and save her? Yeah, well, you tried that. Time for stiffer measures — creating boundaries that save your OWN sanity. (Note, most friends don’t compel us pen letters to infidelity bloggers.)
I’d suggest the following conversation — “Dear Jerk Lover, you’re a kind, loving person and it upsets me to see you get involved with your third jerk in four years. I’m seeing a pattern here. These guys really don’t seem to be bringing out your best self. You deserve better and you can DO better. I think you need professional help to deal with your attraction to abusive relationships. I love you as a friend, but I can’t be your therapist. Why you make these hurtful choices is beyond me. You need to go explore that with a licensed professional.”
Next, you decide how much — if any — contact you want with this friend. You might start with the boundary of just seeing your friend sans boyfriend. Insist on girl only outings. And then keep the conversation on things of mutual interest (not her crazy love life). Perhaps invite a few other friends and widen the circle a bit. Get her engaged in the outside world. NPDs have a way of isolating chumps.
If she keeps pushing that boundary — she wants you to be her therapist, she insists on including him in your get togethers — then you tell her sadly “Jerk Lover, I need to take a break from this relationship. It’s too upsetting to me to see you involved with an NPD, and it stirs up crap from my past.” This is the ultimate sanction — no contact.
Realize that every time you draw a boundary — you have to let go of the outcome. She might get really angry with you for saying her boyfriend is a disordered freak. The familiar “kill the messenger” response. She might keep pushing your boundaries — bringing him up, bringing him around — in which case, stay strong. When you know where she ends and you begin, this will get easier. She’s not your problem. She’s your friend. You can detach with love and let Professor Pain take it from there.
Pain always teaches. I hope your friend absorbs the lesson this time. You’ve done all you can, but some people just don’t want to be saved.